This game was played on a PS Vita with 28 hours of gameplay tracked
Imagine a future that’s as bad as you can imagine. Picture every terrible thing you’ve heard on the news coming true. The harshness of the outside world pushes everyone underground and those unlucky enough to survive have to fight tooth and nail for everything they’ve got. There’s still some semblance of government but it exists only to use and abuse its citizens. That is the world of Freedom Wars. This game throws pretty much everything but the kitchen sink at you to try and hook you. There are numerous gameplay mechanics, a silly but very complex storyline and world, and numerous customization options. This review aims to find out if the game ends up being a Jack-of-all-trades but a master of none.
It’s difficult to pinpoint where to even start with Freedom Wars. There are so many different elements the game tosses at you. I guess I’ll start with the setting and back-story because that is where Freedom Wars puts most of its focus. The story takes place in the not to distant 100,000 years in the future. Humanity has been separated into small underground cities called Panopticons. At the start of the game you can choose whichever Panopitcon you want from a list of real world cities. I decided to choose Chicago because Boston wasn’t on there and I didn’t want to pick New York. Resources have dwindled drastically so these Panopticons are at war with each other over the limited resources.
In response to this the small amount of government that remains have instilled harsh laws. The most minor of transgressions adds to a prison sentence. At birth humans are given 1 million year prison sentences. As a person gets older they can contribute to their Panopticon and doing so will reduce it.
The game begins with you creating your own character with a pretty decent amount of customization options. The tutorial mission shows you the basic movement and combat controls. Right from the get go you’ll notice one of Freedom Wars more unfortunate flaw. The sprint button is the X button and this is a third person shooter at its core. Controlling the admittedly loose camera and sprinting at the same time is a bit of a nightmare. At the end of the tutorial the player character is captured and his memory erased. At the start of that mission he had a shorter prison sentence but losing his memory is considered breaking the law and his sentence is put back up to 1 million years.
From that point on the player completes missions to reduce the sentence, improve his combat readiness, and also claim entitlements. This is one thing that I actually really like about Freedom Wars. Everything in the game serves the story. For example there is the code clearance and exams. When you start the game you are code 1. At the end of the game you will be Code 8. When you’re code one you can barely do anything without getting a small increase in your prison sentence.
There was a time when my character goes back to his cell to get some rest. He lies down, and when he wakes up he’s given an additional 50 years to his sentence for lying down. After missions you are given a list of all the resources you’ve found. When you’re Code 1 you can only access items that are of rarity level 1. This may sound frustrating but it’s not hard to overcome.
After completing missions the player is also given entitlement points. These points are used to purchase a list of what are essentially upgrades. There are ones for the right to lie down, and the right to run for more than ten seconds at a time while not in mission. Those points can also be used to purchase different clothing options for your character, as well as your robot companion (more on those in a second). Then there are the upgrade entitlements you can purchase. You can level up your own equipment and facilities as well as that of the party members you can take into battle with you.
Let’s talk about companions now. This is actually something I feel wasn’t as good in Freedom Wars. As much emphasis that is put into the world building I’m disappointed more effort wasn’t put into the characters. Sure there are a lot of characters, but they are really uninteresting. For a game that lasts up to 30 hours its unfortunate that there really isn’t any characters to latch on to. For most missions the player has the ability to select from a list of about 10 characters to take into battle with you. Each one has a different battle specialty and different set of weapons that they take into battle with them. You can level them up individually but I found it easier to pick a specific group of three and use them exclusively. The group of three I usually chose had a bit more screen time than the others but even then they weren’t particularly interesting.
In fact there is a point in the story where the player is given the Mass Effect-ian choice of leaving one of them behind resulting in their death. Neither character was interesting before the death, nor after the death they weren’t interesting in spite of having the other character they were close to be killed off. Then there’s a part where one of the characters was revealed to be a turncoat and I didn’t care because he wasn’t a character I spent time and points leveling up. My immediate thought when his betrayal was revealed was, “Ha ha you’re only level three so you’re gonna get fucked up by all the level eights on my team nyah, nyah.”
The only character I ended up caring about in any meaningful way was the robot companion. You can customize the robot to look however you want and you can give her weapons and combat items to fight exactly how you want her to. Even though in story my accessory just increased my prison sentence for my little transgressions but she was useful in combat. So if enemy robots captured her I was concerned to get her back.
If anything happened to the other characters I didn’t really care. One of the biggest problems with Freedom Wars is its inconsequential story. For as excellent as the world building is in the game, the actual plot is an afterthought full of anime tropes and disinterest…from me. The actual plot is about an anime girl coming to the player’s Panopticon and she’s really mysterious. It turns out she’s from a more advanced race of humans from ‘On High.’ I assume she’s come to mingle with the commoners. Actually she’s looking for her missing father. Meanwhile the rest of the citizens are fighting against a rival Panopticon and their elite soldier named Abel with his personal giant robot called Red Rage. He wants to open something called a casket to bring about the rest of humanities destruction. Not much else to it really. In the interest of full disclosure I will say that there is a little bit more that I’m leaving out for spoiler reasons but suffice to say I wasn’t really engaged in it.
I’ve said a lot already and have barely touched the gameplay, which is frightening because there really is a lot to talk about with this game. The game throws so much at the player that at times it’s a bit overwhelming. To simplify it we’ll say that the game is mainly split into two different parts. There is the in mission parts, and the out of mission parts. If that sounds like a gross oversimplification, trust me, I’m trying my best here.
Before a mission can start you have to select your loadout. You can create custom loadouts in your spare time if you are so inclined to make this process easier. This essentially consists of picking which two weapons you want to have. This is something the game does quite well. There are a lot of different weapons to choose from of many types and sizes. They range from light melee weapons like chainsaws, to heavy weapons like massive swords to machineguns, to rocket launchers. Next, you can choose different combat items that range from health packs, to grenades. Lastly you choose your thorn type. The thorn is essentially a giant grappling hook that each of the characters uses to leap around the levels and get to higher ground quickly. There are three types of thorns. There are the binding thorns (which is the one I used) that are used to immobilize enemies. The healing thorns do exactly what you would expect. Finally the shield thorn is used to increase defense. Each one can be charged up to either stop an enemy robot in its tracks, crate an area of effect healing tree, or create a wall that small arms fire can’t penetrate except for that of the user.
Are you starting to get what I mean when I say this game has a lot going on? Next you select which characters will join you in battle. You can pick three and since I was a binding thorn user, I ended up picking one of each type into battle with me for a more balanced approach. The pre mission dossier will tell you what kind of mission you are about to embark on. They can be liquidation missions, which is to just kill all of the enemy opposition. The more interesting mission type is the reclamation mission, which is a variant on capture the flag. In those missions there are giant robots called abductors that have captured different citizens from your Panopticon. Your goal is to destroy the abductor and bring the captured person back to a specific spot on the map where they are then considered reclaimed. These missions are more interesting because the flag can move around freely. More often than not they will run and hide
So how do you take down these abductors? Well you can use your weapons to just hack away and hope for the best, but the best and most fun strategy is to use a cutting weapon in conjunction with your thorn to take them out. You can use the thorn and lock on to specific limbs on the robot and jump to it and start hacking it off. This will eventually hurt your thumb, and strain your circle button because you will be mashing it quite often in this game.
After completing a mission you are given a score, which can net you more resources. When you’re given the list of items you’ve received you can choose to donate them for a reduced sentence or keep them for use in the crafting system that I will soon explain.
That leads us to the non-mission parts of the game. Once again there is a lot of different thing the game shows you here. You can purchase weapons and items if you want, or you can use the resources you have to upgrade them using facilities. Let me say right now that the facilities while a cool idea are easily my least favorite part of the game. In theory it sounds great. There are four different facilities that a player can have. Facilities are basically buildings that are owned by the player that exist only to manufacture items. The four types are medical, munitions, weapons, and augmentations. When you reclaim citizens in the missions they can be used to decrease the amount of time it takes for each facility to perform its duty.
The problem is that the crafting part of it is terrible. It would be better if the items used for the crafting were more straightforward. When a game has a good crafting system there are a few different items that are combined in different ways to make whatever it is you are making. In Freedom wars there are hundreds of different resources that have complicated names like Generic Carapace Mk2. How do three of these make a machine gun? I’m getting a little ahead of myself. How does each facility work? What does it do?
Well in theory the weapon facility can create weapons, or upgrade what you already have. The augmentations are specific upgrades for the player like faster health regen or increased elemental damage from weapons. Yet they require these random resources that I was never really able to figure out. At the end of the game I had a preposterous amount of resources that weren’t useful in the slightest. I didn’t know where to get the specific resources needed to upgrade the weapons I preferred to use, and at endgame I had one augmentation that I was lucky enough to happen to have the right resources for. The medical and munitions facilities fair a little better but are no less dumb. With those you can just dump in resources and the facility will just shit stuff out after five minutes.
I wouldn’t have minded so much if it was just a minor addition but it ended up hindering me. In certain missions I didn’t have strong enough weapons to really stand a chance. Especially any, where I was essentially riding solo. So I took advantage of one of Freedom Wars nicer features, the online cooperative. You can log online and have up to four players take on specific missions. So if I came to a mission that I found too annoying to play on my own because of my gimped weapons I would go online and receive the help of other nerds in the Chicago server that took the time to learn the intricacies of the crafting system.
The only thing I haven’t really covered are the horrendously out of place, time wasting stealth segments. In these segments the player is sent to the cell garden. While here there are sets of rooms that are set up like a maze that you have to navigate without being spotted by security. I must say these guards have a worse field of vision than the Five Nights at Freddie’s guard. They are crazy easy but really tedious and slow the pacing down drastically. For a game that is supposed to be as up-tempo and bombastic as this one is in its combat, these segments are a major step down.
After all of this I would still heartily and without hesitation recommend this game. For all of its flaws and complexities I would love to see this series continue. This is a world that I would love to see explored. I also feel that it would benefit more being on a console as opposed to a handheld system. The controller would automatically clear up any control issues. If the crafting system was retooled and a more interesting story was told, this could be an amazing franchise that I’d be happy to support. For now though, this is definitely one of the better games available for the Vita and worth a play through.